The Adelaide Cabaret Festival has its rituals and the Opening and Closing Galas are among the audience favourites. The last night of the festival falls as near as damn-it to the shortest day and out-going artistic director, Ali McGregor (pictured above) has not only wanted to put some soul in Solstice, but plenty of heart as well. “This is my last night,” she beams, “and I’m making myself at home. Sitting on my chaise longue beside my open fire.”
Opening the proceedings with a perky version of the Rosemary Clooney hit, Come On–A My House, McGregor plays MC and host to a procession of performers. Irish comedian Eddie Bannon adds a little mischievous help as her tipsy butler, serving the guests from his deco drinks trolley.
It is a strong line-up. Adelaide performer Johanna Allen delivers an irresistible version of Avicii’s Addicted to You, McGregor returns for a duet with vocalist and trumpeter Eric Santucci and some Old Black Magic, followed by more legerdemain from Andriano Cappeletta, singing a Stevie Wonder song from the key of life, If It’s Magic.
Louise Fitzhardinge, like Eric Santucci and others in the Gala, is part of the festival’s Space to Create week-long residency mentorship program. Supplying people in the front rows with flags from European nations, she instructed them to raise them at intervals while she sang It’s a Wonderful World, switching as required from English to French, German and sign language. It is a fun idea and a reminder Quel monde merveilleux it is.
Michaela Burger sang Tall Poppy, from A Migrant’s Son, her solo show charting her Greek father and his family’s journey to an adopted home in Australia from the 1930s to the present. It is a story of the challenges faced making new lives in an often racist community, but the song captures his indomitable spirit.
In a lighter vein, Jason Kravitz mingles in the front stalls getting someone to read a text message from their phone. This becomes the catalyst for an improvised jazz song, sketched out by the excellent house band (led by musical director Mark Ferguson) as Kravits launches into Hey Sweets I’ll See You Soon.
US singer Amber Martin also has some fun in a fright wig playing Nashville singer Reba McIntyre performing her famous weepie Does He Love You, in duet with Michelle Brasier. It is a send-up but the vocals also capture country pop at its histrionic best.
With this program, Ali McGregor makes sure women hold up more than half the sky with Jessie Lloyd, Candice Lloyd, Jessica Hitchcock and Deline Briscoe from the Mission Songs Project singing Yil Lull, South Sudanese singer-songwriter, Ajak Kwai, and zany performer Sheridan Harbridge making an unexpected appearance. There is also a Suffragette medley prefaced by a wryly delivered call to action from Joanne Hartstone, as legendary South Australian emancipator Muriel Matters, an excerpt from her excellent solo show That Daring Australian Girl.
Tommy Bradson, whose Nosferatutu or Bleeding at the Ballet (directed by Sheridan Harbridge) was a final weekend favourite, capered on stage like a firecracker in an orange suit and, still kitted out in her Queen Kong (in Outer Space) costume, Yana Alana aka Sarah Ward gave a bizarrely discrepant, but nonetheless show-stopping, reading of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock.
Another fascinating American performer at the festival was John Cameron Mitchell, co-creator of the cult musical and film Hedwig and the Angry Inch. In true Tonight Show fashion he joined Ali McGregor on the chaise longue as they sang a threaded duet – Mitchell singing the 1929 cheer-up song Happy Days Are Here Again while McGregor interleaved Judy Garland’s signature Get Happy !
For the finale, Ali McGregor reprised a mash-up which had been tried at last year’s festival but this time was a triumph. The Mission Project singers, accompanied by digeridoo players Jamie Goldsmith and Harley Hall, sang Yothu Yindi’s Treaty while Glam Rock Starman conduit, Sven Ratzke sang Let’s Dance in his best Bowie croon.
Like David Mallet’s famous video clip, filmed in a pub in outback Australia in 1983, the performance telegraphed a number of cogent meanings simultaneously. It was a fine note to finish on. Putting on her red shoes, Ali McGregor’s Gala, like her 2018 festival, has been good for both heart and soul.
The Winter Soulstice Closing Gala was at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre on June 23.